Monitoring Mosquito-Borne Disease in The Woodlands

The buzzing has begun! As summer approaches, the Environmental Services department would like to remind you that “mosquito season” is here. May is when the Texas Department of State Health Services begins testing mosquito samples for disease.

The Environmental Services (ES) Mosquito Team is out setting traps that target the vectors for West Nile virus (WNv).  The last two years, we’ve experienced high WNv disease activity in The Woodlands. In 2020, 12% of mosquito samples tested positive for the disease and 8% in 2021.

To prevent the spread of mosquitos (and mosquito-borne illnesses) – the ES Mosquito Team reminds residents to take a moment every week to empty containers holding water and scrub out birdbaths. Some of the most common mosquito breeding sites found around the yard are – plant saucers, toys, wheelbarrows, buckets, and birdbaths. Follow these simple guidelines and reduce the buzzing in your backyard!

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If you are having a problem with mosquitos and cannot locate the source, please call Environmental Services at 281-210-2058. For more information on mosquito-proofing your yard check out this two-part series.

Tell Mosquitoes to Bug Off…

BUG OFF- USING MOSQUITO REPELLENT

Recent rains and warm temperatures have produced a bumper crop of flood plain mosquitoes. Fortunately, these annoying biters are just that, annoying; they don’t carry disease. Unfortunately, The Woodlands has other species that do. So, before you head outdoors, especially at dawn and dusk, reach for a repellent that keeps the biters at bay.

There are nearly 50 species of mosquitoes in The Woodlands and likely as many choices of repellent. Make it easy on yourself, choose one that contains one of the four, EPA approved active ingredients: DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. EPA makes it even easier to find a repellent that meets your specific needs with their online search tool.

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Hiring! Seasonal Mosquito Technicians 2021

The Environmental Services Department is looking for enthusiastic, dedicated, independent individuals to join the Mosquito Team. Increase your field and laboratory experience while being an important part of this public health and outreach program.

  • Work as part of a team to monitor for mosquito-borne diseases
  • Deploy traps throughout The Woodlands that target different species
  • Use your interpersonal skills while sharing information with the public
  • Delve into the world of mosquito anatomy and identification in the lab
  • Expand your knowledge of water conservation, recycling right, sustainable landscapes and more supporting Environmental Services programs and events

Positions are from mid-May through end of November with an opportunity to extend the term of employment (can also accommodate students returning to college in August).

Apply today!

Applications will be accepted until April 16, 2021, or until position is filled. Interested candidates are encouraged to submit applications early. View the full job description here.

Questions? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call Environmental Services 281-210-3800.

Established in 2005, the mission of the Mosquito Surveillance & Education Program is to reduce the risk of mosquito-borne disease transmission for the protection and wellbeing of The Woodlands residents through the application of Integrated Mosquito Management. Learn what you can do to target mosquitoes.

Six degrees of separation between your lawn mower and mosquitoes

Many of us are familiar with the party game that challenges us to connect any person in six steps to anyone else in the world. But, it’s more than just a game. Based on a study by social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, the theory that we are just a few people apart from being connected to everyone was proven right! So, if it works time after time for people, can’t we use this theory to connect all things? Let’s put it to the test to see if we can connect a simple household chore, like mowing the lawn, with eliminating mosquitoes. Sorry, Kevin Bacon, this version of six degrees does not involve you.

Step 1: Raise your mower blade

Next time you get out the mower, leave the grass a little longer to shade the soil and help it hold onto precious moisture between rains. By removing only the top 1/3 of the leaf blade, more grass remains to make sugars that support strong root growth. Check out the Woodlands Water Best Lawn Practices page for other great lawn care tips.

Step 2: Deeper grass roots

Now that your grass is growing taller, there is a deeper and more extensive root system in your yard.  The next step is to apply compost once or twice a year – in the spring and fall. This adds slow-release nutrients and helps break up heavy soils so water can penetrate more deeply. In fact, increasing the carbon in soils by a mere 5% using compost can quadruple the soil’s water-holding capacity.

Step 3: Less frequent watering

When soil holds more water, and longer roots are better able to find it, the result is a lush lawn with less water from the tap. Turf grass needs only an inch of water a week – an amount that can often be met by rainfall alone. For expert guidance on irrigation go to Woodlands Water (formerly WJPA) and check out the watering calendar.

Check out the lush turf at the front of the Woodlands Water office on Lake Robbins Dr. You might not believe it but it has thrived on precipitation alone for years!

Step 4: Reduce run off

Accounting for rainfall in your irrigation schedule will leave more water on your lawn and money in your pocket. When irrigation is needed during a long dry spell, the best technique for our clay soil is the cycle and soak method – dividing the sprinkler run time into two or three cycles which allows water to soak into the soil. The first cycle wets the surface of the soil, breaking surface tension. After a rest, the second cycle of water soaks into the soil more effectively. A third cycle is especially beneficial for sloped lawns. Allowing the soil to soak up the water is not only great for your landscape, it keeps water from running off into the street.

Check out the City of Frisco’s great explanation of the cycle and soak method and the Colorado Springs YouTube Video below.

Step 5: Storm sewers stay dry

Less water running into the street means drier storm sewers. Storm sewers are designed to move rainwater through, not hold it; if it’s not raining they should be dry. If they are perpetually full of water from over-irrigation, then they will be full of another thing we definitely don’t want – mosquitoes. These little bloodsuckers don’t need much in order to thrive in the cool protection of a wet storm sewer. Eggs are laid in as little as an inch of water and emerge as flying, biting adults in only 7 days.  

Step 6: Fewer mosquitoes!

So…

If the your nearby storm sewer stays dry between rains,

…because you are sending less water into the street into the street,

…because your healthy lawn need less irrigating,

Then, voila! You get fewer mosquitoes!

We did it – six steps connecting your lawn mower to fewer mosquitoes! Take a moment today to raise that mower blade and appreciate fewer bites while enjoying your beautiful green oasis. 

Additional Resources

In this video, Eric Becker, Irrigation Specialist of Colorado Springs Utility will walk you through how to apply the cycle and soak technique to your irrigation system.

Check out A&M Extension’s guide for water efficient lawn care – these methods for  North Texas can be applied to our Southern region too.

Learn more about the connection between water and mosquitoes in this Community Magazine article.

And if you missed it, here is a 2-part series on How to Mosquito Proof Your Yard.

For more information on keeping mosquitoes out of your backyard, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/mosquitoinfo. To report a mosquito problem contact the Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800

Mosquito-Proof Your Patio Part II

Benjamin Franklin famously noted, “Nothing is certain, except death and taxes.”.  Well, in Southeast Texas, you can add mosquitoes to that list.  What Ben may not have known is that you have more control over mosquitoes, at least the ones in your yard, than you think. Read on for the second installment of “Mosquito-Proof Your Patio” for three new and easy tips to help you enjoy the outdoors and be mosquito-free… and if you haven’t already tossed your saucers, put donuts in the birdbath, or started using a big fan, then check out part one here.  

Get your mind in the gutter

It’s easy to forget about your gutters – out of sight, out of mind. But, just a few leaves and needles can clog it up, creating a nice, wet environment for mosquitoes to thrive. After a rain, it only takes a week to hatch a whole new crop of biters above your front door. Regular gutter maintenance won’t be the most exciting thing to do with your weekend, but you can delight in all the mosquitoes that you are evicting from your eaves.

Do you have a French drain?

Called by many different names – blind drains, rock drains, perimeter drains – these are underground trenches with perforated pipe that are meant to redirect water. However, they tend to perform far better at breeding mosquitoes than helping out your drainage situation.

If you do have a French drain, keep it mosquito-free with a Mosquito Dunk ®, a safe, cheap, easy solution that is harmless to fish, people and pets. Tip:  keep the dunk from washing away by tying it to the drain cover. Ensure the string is long enough so the donut can rest on the bottom of the catch basin. The naturally occurring bacteria in the dunk can survive multiple wet and dry cycles, so if you can see it in there, it’s working. Expect to tie on a new dunk about every 30 days.

If you’re considering installing a French drain to manage storm water, there are other options that work better with our local drainage system. Check out the upcoming Rainwater Harvesting Class on Nov 2 for hands-on training and an explanation of various techniques.

A rain garden, which can take advantage of a natural low spot in your yard, offers one alternative. Rain gardens are not ponds; they are designed to fill with water when it rains and be dry when it doesn’t. Featuring easy-care plants that can handle this wet and dry cycle, rain gardens help hold runoff, allowing it to soak into the ground over time.  

In addition to storing water in the soil, rain gardens:

  • Add beauty to the yard with native and climate-adapted plants
  • Create habitat for birds, butterflies, and dragonflies
  • Can be sized and shaped to fit your landscape
  • Reduce flooding by keeping water out of storm sewers
  • Don’t breed mosquitoes!

Guard with garlic

Garlic barrier, commonly sold as Mosquito barrier, has been used for years in agriculture to repel insects from crops and even keep birds from eating tree fruits. Dilute this liquid garlic concentrate with water and apply with a pump sprayer to plants and structures around the perimeter of your yard. One application lasts about a month but needs to be reapplied after rain. This can be a great tool to use ahead of a pool party or family barbeque –after you’ve tossed anything holding water first.

Did you miss Mosquito-Proof Your Patio Part I?

Check out three more easy things you can do to enjoy the outdoors and be mosquito-free.

For more information on keeping mosquitoes out of your backyard, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/mosquitoinfo. To report a mosquito problem contact the Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800.